Focus DRTV on building brands

I was saddened to read about the Sharper Image bankruptcy and that it has been forced to offer its assets for sale. But sadness aside, those of us in the direct business must take notice. Although Sharper Image’s cam­paign is widely considered a great success, I believe poor brand execution in DRTV ultimately led to business failure.

Beginning in 1998, Sharper Image created multiproduct half hours. These shows sold on TV and built brand value for the Sharper cata­log. Then, traditional DRTV industry experts advised it to focus only on the Ionic Breeze. Why? To get the most short-term sales.

The Breeze sold well, so Sharper Image invested massive media budgets selling Ionic Breeze. Unfortunately, this approach left the company without support for its long-term brand value. Compounding this error, mes­saging for the Ionic Breeze didn’t support core Sharper Image brand.

I know that other factors contributed to Sharper Image’s difficulties. But DRTV uniquely offered it a way to the future, and it didn’t take advantage of the opportunity.

Sharper Image joins other DRTV “suc­cesses” which have led to business failure. Despite exceptional sales, George Foreman Grill maker Salton merged with Applica last year after its stock tumbled from nearly $60 to under $2. Why? Its infomercial only built George’s brand.

In the tools and hardware sector, the RotoZip generated massive short-term sales only to be quietly and quickly sold to Bosch in 2003. Word on the street says it was about to close its doors.

These companies made a smart choice in selecting DRTV. We can only imagine the brand power that $100 million in media should have provided Sharper Image, Salton, or RotoZip. But they failed in execution. For those new to the DRTV business, let me make two recommendations.

First, insist on your campaign building brand while selling product, even if it means giving up some short-term sales. You can, and should, do both.

And second, be careful choosing vendors. Few DRTV agencies know how to achieve this fine balance of sales and branding.

But don’t stay away from DRTV — it’s an exceptional and powerful tool. And used well, it builds brand quickly and at a fraction of the cost of traditional TV.

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